If you’re looking for a hero of the future, look no further than Karl Urban. After all, the British thesp has fueled his rising star by playing them. He’s been our ''Bones'' McCoy in J.J. Abrams’ next-gen Star Trek franchise. He was a very good Judge Dredd in the underrated, under-seen 2012 comic book adaptation. Now he comes to the small screen in Fox’s Almost Human, another sci-fi series from Abrams’ Bad Robot, created and overseen by longtime Fringe showrunner J.H. Wyman. The pilot part of two night, two episode premiere event is a slick, polished formulation of familiar dystopian future tropes elevated by an unusual and central relationship, well played by Urban and co-star Michael Ealy.
The year is 2048, all high-tech and high-crime. Digital billboards, hovercraft cars, black market genetic engineering and terrorists with bio-weapons abound. Oh, and there are robots, too. Lots of them. Urban is John Kennex, a flinty, haunted cop in the Harrison Ford/Blade Runner mold in high-tech, high-crime 2048 He’s back on the force two years after getting blown up by gangsters known as The Syndicate. He’s got a mechanical leg that won’t take and new android partner, Dorian, played by Ealy, programmed with emotions and attitude. Urban and Ealy instantly develop a sparky, appealing chemistry, and one of the more promising prospects of the series is watching their relationship deepen over time.
There’s a nice supporting cast in the making. Mackenzie Crook (Gareth, the proto-Dwight from the British version of The Office) is the nerd-awkward basement-genius robo-mechanic who jams to ''Personal Jesus'' and engineers synthetic butterflies in his spare time. Lili Taylor (watchable and welcome anytime, anywhere) is their commanding officer, and she seems to be playing a long, righteous game by forcing John back to work and pairing him with Dorian. ''He’s special, just like you.'' Looking forward to seeing why she believes such a thing, just as I am greatly intrigued by the mystery of John’s late father, also a cop, whose past work and remaining body parts are of great interest to The Syndicate. Something similar can be said about John’s ex-girlfriend. But that would be spoiling some stuff.
EW named Almost Human one of the most promising shows of the season in our Fall TV Preview issue. The pilot has been slightly tweaked since then and for the better. It captures your imagination for a show that could explore our romance with technology, for better and worse, and how technology is simultaneously expanding and diminishing our humanity. Who is more human: A stuck-in-the-past human being with a mechanical leg who refuses to evolve emotionally? Or a completely synthetic physical creature programmed to feel deeply and hungry to grow? What remains to be seen is if this premise can produce a wealth of story. The strong series that will hopefully follow should quickly flesh out Urban’s character, create some compelling villains, and (I suspect this mandate might be the hardest) maintain the pilot’s impressive, undoubtedly pricy production values. Does Almost Human have a long future as a viable storytelling franchise? Or is it just a nifty idea that dresses up well for a pilot but can’t support a series? Tune in tomorrow, same time, same channel to begin taking the measure. B+